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Safari 5 Brings Speed, Reader and Extensions

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Safari Apple (s aapl) quietly released a major upgrade to Safari, bringing the browser up to version 5.0 for both Mac and Windows. Safari 5 brings several welcome improvements, including a new “Reader” mode, improved HTML 5 support, support for Bing as a default search engine and a new extensions architecture.

To learn more about using Safari, check out our Safari 101 screencast on TechUniversity (subscription required).

Safari 5 also boosts JavaScript performance with Apple’s Nitro engine, (formally known as squirrelfish). Stats on Apple’s site claim JavaScript performance gains up to 30 percent faster than Safari 4, 3 percent faster than Chrome (really Apple, 3 percent?), and twice as fast as Firefox.

Safari’s Reader feature has been available for a while to users of Instapaper and Arc/40’s Readability bookmarklets. Reader takes the text of the web page and presents it in a larger font, uncluttered by other parts of the page, allowing you to concentrate on reading the article. I’ve been a big fan of Readability, so I’m happy to see such a great feature added to Safari. Finding the Reader button took some time. It shows up next to the RSS button in the address bar, and only when Safari detects a page that has an article with a lot of text in it.

Apple has taken another swing at Google by adding support for Bing in Safari. This move shows just how much the tech industry landscape has changed, and how rapidly it continues to change. While Google remains the default search engine, adding Bing as an option means that Apple could flip the switch on which search engine is selected by default at any time.

Firefox users have been able to extend their browser with add-ons for years, and several users have cited the lack of extensibility of Safari as a major reason for choosing Firefox on the Mac. However, it took Google’s Chrome browser supporting extensions to push Apple to support the same thing in Safari. In typical Apple style, it seems that the extensions will be signed, and a certificate to sign the extension will only be available by joining the Safari Developer Program. The extensions will also run sandboxed, further protecting the browser.

Safari extensions are build using HTML 5, CSS3, and JavaScript. Safari 5 packages a tool called the Extension Builder to help with packaging and distributing the extension into the Extensions Gallery. Expect a bunch of long awaited favorites to show up in the gallery soon.

As of this writing, no extensions are available yet. Safari 5 ships with extensions disabled by default, but to enable them, enable the Develop menu in Safari preferences, then select “Enable Extensions.”

Auto-complete in the address bar has also been enhanced. In the short time I’ve been testing it, the suggestions are not only faster, but more relevant. This is because Safari is now searching not only the beginning of the URL, but the entire string for matching characters. So far, this is honestly my favorite new feature, and speeds up browsing significantly. Oh, and address bar progress indicator is back.

Another huge bonus for me is hardware acceleration in Windows. Since I work in an office and use an XP laptop during the day, this means that Safari 5 should be a big performance boost over 4.

If you weren’t sold before, are the additions enough to bring you back to Safari? What other thoughts do you have about the new changes? Let us know in the comments!

30 Responses to “Safari 5 Brings Speed, Reader and Extensions”

  1. John Scott

    XMarks has a Bookmark sync for Safari now. Its Free. I have found some problems with it since Safari 5 but I am sure some fixes are coming.

  2. Strongfist

    To be honest this whole iPhone 4 hype has been blown out the water by apple. I mean its a good marketing strategy but theres no need to tell lies.

    Remember when Jobs said that the new glass casing actually makes it stronger? Thats not true.

    Check out and read the latest 3 articles. They all focus on the lies (or at least over hyped features. Dont you want to know the facts before you spend your hard earned money?

  3. Also, is anyone having trouble right-clicking inside the Safari browser window? I can’t seem to get a single contextual menu to show up, which is making Safari practically unusable. I’d post this on the Apple support forums, but their forum registration system seems to be broken and I can’t log in to post.

  4. I’m finding the new address bar auto-complete to be a bit of a mess. In theory it’s great, but the problem is that suggestions based on partial URLs assembled from disparate substrings are taking priority on the list over actual URLs that you are punching in from the beginning (if I’m making my meaning clear). It’s also causing problems for keyword search. I’ve reenabled Keywurl by editing the Info.plist file in the plug-in bundle, and other essential plug-ins like GlimmerBlocker and ClickToFlash are working as well as ever, but the new auto-complete is overriding keyword-based searches like “g ” (if I want to search for something on Google, for instance).

    This is one browser feature that is absolutely a deal-breaker for me if it doesn’t work the way I want it to, because I’m so accustomed to using my address bar as a prompt for keyword searches. If there isn’t a workaround soon, I may have to retreat to Firefox for the time being. And I’d rather not, because the new Reader feature is very, very pretty.

  5. Colin

    So far I am impressed with Safari 5. The updates to the browser, however, are not enough to make me switch back from Google Chrome. A quick speed comparison between the two leaves no “humanly noticeable” difference in loading. I do really like the Reader function as it is very similar in functionality to an AdBlock extension and lets you read just the content.. The real kicker for me is Chrome’s auto-translate feature. As a graduate student in Physics, this feature is an absolute must, since it will automatically translate a variety of different languages into English. I will have to see what extensions become available for Safari in the future though.

  6. If only there were some venue where Apple could have told the developer community about Safari 5’s ability to accept extensions written by 3rd parties in HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript so they wouldn’t have had to rely on an email press release.

    Oh, wait…

  7. Safari 5 is huge improvement! It is indeed faster than Chrome 5, and of course, far ahead than Firefox. I’ve been loyal to Safari since version 3 for Windows, and I can’t wait to try out their extensions.

    Extensions/addons for Firefox & Chrome really nice, but it sucks your memory and uses multiple resources (check Task Manager), huge difference!

  8. Reader’s great but not a reason to ditch the Readability bookmarklet yet. The latter works with every page, enhancing the readability even of texts Safari doesn’t recognize as such.

    And now there’s waiting for the extensions :)

  9. I’m liking the new version a lot. I especially like that Reader eliminates the need to advance to the next page of a story. It displays the whole article instead of my needing to click for the next page. The fact that it eliminates the ads, and other useless distractions is a huge plus.

    • Yeah, I just tried it on who always breaks up their articles into 3 pages. It worked great. Bravo Apple. It also seems to render the text very nicely too. I wish MobileMe was free for bookmark sync-ing or someone wrote an extension to plug into google’s bookmark sharing system.

  10. I will only be able to use it when Apple decides to add extensions to it, just like Chrome and Firefox. Seriously, I love ALL Apple products, but the lack of extensions “kills” the experience when using Safari…sadly.

  11. netwiz

    I’ve been trying out the new browser on my windows machine, while scouring the web for iPhone 4 news, and I can say its much faster at starting up the actual program, than safari 4 was for windows. I love the clean look, as my firefox browser is cluttered with extensions, and I don’t really want to delete any of them…

    Speaking of extensions, the adblock plugin, couldn’t come soon enough. I’ve grown accustomed to no ads in FF.

    Overall I’m pretty impressed with it, and will try it out over the next few days, to see if its good enough to be my default browser.

  12. Until Apple make MobileMe free for sync’ing bookmarks what’s the point? Chrome is just as good (if not better). Even though I like Safari, I just don’t feel the need to move from Chrome.

    • What had Mobile Me to do with this article? Do you even use Mobile Me? I would like to see it become a free service too, but I do believe that it’s worth paying for nonetheless. It’s been very useful for me. Not everyone wants a free service. I don’t see Google’s offerings as all that great. The paid services that I use instead (Mobile Me, and Kerio Connect) are far superior, and they support my iPhone without any problems. I’m not sure I can trust Google to continue seamlessly supporting the iPhone since they’re competing with Apple.

      • Larry

        @Howie ummm MobileMe is how you can sync Safari bookmarks across computers.

        I have MobileME, have had it since before it was MobileME. It basically sucks for what you pay for. I wont be renewing in July. I would still use it if it was free, but that rumor did not pan out.

        It sucks…because its slow as hell. Even the beta is slow. Gmail is 100x faster all the time. iDisk is sloooooooooooooow. Not everyone wants a fee service??? You are probably right, but 98% of everyone does.

        Gmail works great on my iPhone, it uses ActiveSync. So will Live/Hotmail on June 15th and thanks to Apple iOS 4 on my 3gs will allow me to use multiple ActiveSync accounts so I can STOP paying for MobileMe and use either Free Gmail or Free Hotmail with my work Exchange account at the same time on my iPHone. Hotmail gives you 25gigs of space for Free, and its not part of your email, like the 10gig with MobileME that is NOT free.